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Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The Arctic has been in the news a lot lately since President Obama gave conditional approval to Shell to start drilling for oil and gas in the northernmost part of the Earth. Shell could begin exploratory drilling as early as next week, risking devastating oil spills and ensuring more carbon emissions pumped into the atmosphere, undermining the goals set by the US in its fight against climate change.

To bring greater awareness to these dire concerns, Golden Globe-winner Keri Russell, Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune along with veterans advocates Genevieve Chase and BriGette McCoy, and author Rebecca Solnit just visited the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They saw firsthand why millions of Americans want the Arctic permanently protected.

“Going to Alaska was a lifelong dream,” said Russell. “I’m amazed by the incredible beauty and serenity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Having the chance to camp and raft the Kongakut River and completely immerse myself in nature was a life changing experience and an important reminder that we need to protect these lands for future generations.”

2015.21.7 BF Phillips(Photo: Chris Goldberg)PETER PHILLIPS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

July 18th 2015 was the first day of this year’s summer camp for the world’s business and political aristocracy and their invited guests. 2,000 to 3,000 men, mostly from the wealthiest global one percent, gather at Bohemian Grove, 70 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Sonoma County—to sit around the campfire and chew the fat—off-the-record—with ex-presidents, corporate leaders and global financiers.

Speakers this year giving “Lakeside Chats” include past Secretary of Defense and the CIA Leon Panetta, Paul Volcker Jr. former Federal Reserve Chairman, retired Admiral Mike Mullen former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NYU Law Professor Bryan Stevenson, producer Norman Lear, the founder of AOL Steve Case, and Christopher Hill former US Ambassador to Iraq.

The Bohemian Grove summer encampments have become one of the most famous private men's retreats in the world. Club members and several hundred world-class guests gather annually in the last weeks of July to recreate what has been called "the greatest men's party on earth." Spanning three weekends, the outdoors event includes lectures, rituals, theater, camp parties, golf, swimming, skeet shooting, politics, sideline business meetings and feasts of food and alcohol.

One might imagine modern-day aristocrats like Henry Kissinger, the Koch brothers, and Donald Rumsfeld amid a circle of friends sipping cognac and discussing how the "unqualified" masses cannot be trusted to carry out policy, and how elites must set values that can be translated into "standards of authority."


aaaaachiquitaIn Spanish, the image above commemorates the ongoing battle for unionism in Colombia against paramilitary and government killings. In 1928, up to 3000 banana worker activists for a union were massacred by the Columbian military. The assassinations have continued by right wing militias beyond 2008. (Photo: Antonio Tobón Restrepo)

During his time as attorney general, Eric Holder appointed attorneys from his former law firm - the top DC white-collar defense firm of Covington & Burling - to senior positions in the Department of Justice (DOJ). In fact, at the beginning of Holder's term, the top three positions in the DOJ (the head of the DOJ civil division, the head of the criminal division and, of course, the position of attorney general) were held by Covington & Burling "revolving door" lawyers.

If one wants to understand why the DOJ was so lenient with big banks, it is instructive to look back at the infamous Chiquita Banana defense, headed by Holder when he was at Covington & Burling, shortly before he was appointed attorney general.

winter 2008 article in the Guardian provides the context for Holder's defense of Chiquita's indefensible, deadly corporate conduct. 

2015.20.7 BF Quigley(Photo: Culture:Subculture)BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, the nation saw tens of thousands of people left behind in New Orleans. Ten years later, it looks like the same people in New Orleans have been left behind again. The population of New Orleans is noticeably smaller and noticeably whiter. While tens of billions poured into Louisiana, the impact on poor and working people in New Orleans has been minimal. Many of the elderly and the poor, especially poor families with children, never made it back to New Orleans. The poverty rate for children who did made it back remains at disturbingly high pre-Katrina levels, especially for Black children. Rents are high and taking a higher percentage of people’s income. The pre-Katrina school system fired all it teachers and professionals and turned itself into the charter experiment capital of the US even while the number of children in public schools has dropped dramatically. Since Katrina, white incomes, which were over twice that of Blacks, have risen three times as much as Blacks. While not all the numbers below are bad, they do illustrate who has been left behind in the ten years since Katrina hit.

33        Rent in New Orleans is up 33 percent for one bedroom apartments and 41 percent for two bedroom apartments since Katrina hit.   This is very tough because in New Orleans, 55 percent of residents rent.   The national average is 35 percent. In 2005, one bedroom was $578 and two was $676. In 2015, it is $767 for one and $950 for two. CNN/Money recently named New Orleans as one of the worst cities in the US for renters.   Before Katrina the average renter spent 19 percent of its income on rent. The Data Center, a terrific resource for information on the region, reports 37 percent of renters in New Orleans now spend more than 50 percent of their income to rent. Rental apartments are mostly substandard as well with 78 percent, nearly 50,000 apartments, in the city needing major repairs.

38        In 2005, 38 percent of the children in New Orleans lived in poverty, 17 percentage points higher than the US as a whole. The most recent numbers show 39 percent of the children in New Orleans live in poverty, still 17 percentage points higher than the national average. 82 percent of these families have someone working in the family so the primary cause is low wages.

2015.20.7 BF buchheit(Photo: David Goehring)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The FBI defines terrorism as "Acts dangerous to human life...intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Much of the behavior of our current health care system meets that definition. The facts show intention on the part of corporations to intimidate the population by using market strategies to charge whatever they like for their medical products and services, and an effort to coerce the public into accepting the current system as the only option.

The Average American Family Pays $4,000 for Medical Fraud and Subsidies

Medical billing fraud is estimated at 10 percent of all health care, or about $270 billion, while patent monopolies raise the price of prescription drugs by another $270 billion a year. Combined, this represents an astonishing annual cost of over $4,000 to an average American household. As The Atlantic puts it, "The people most likely to bilk the system are doctors and medical providers, not 'welfare queens.'"

Intimidation by Outrageous Markups

In a recent analysis of 50 hospitals (49 for-profit) with the highest charge-to-cost ratios in 2012, the average markup was 1,000 percent, which means that a procedure costing a hospital $100 is marked up to $1,000 for us.

Some of the markups test the limits of sanity: an 80-cent needle for $143.25 (a 17,000 percent markup). A 25-cent IUD device for $1,000. A blood test that costs $10 in one hospital and $10,000 in another.


aaaParthenon(Photo: Steve Swayne)Austerity, the tool of neoliberal capitalism, stands up to Greek democracy and stares it down. Oh well.

We’re remarkably comfortable with soulless economics.

Pope Francis, speaking this week in Paraguay, cried to the nations of Planet Earth: “I ask them not to yield to an economic model . . . which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”

But we have yielded to this economic model, in thought, word and deed:

“At issue,” USA Today informs us, “is whether Greece has taken adequate steps to cut spending and raise taxes to deserve the new three-year, $59 billion infusion of funds it has requested, and whether it can be trusted to follow through on the austerity program it has proposed as the price for new loans.”

The pope’s words haven’t penetrated the pseudo-objective certainties of financial reporting, much less the dark sanctuaries of money and power. But they must. And eventually they will, or human evolution is dead. An allegedly impersonal economic structure, which quietly benefits the infinitesimally few who have far more than they need, is no foundation for our future.

This economic system is a relic of the Industrial Age, or perhaps it’s a relic of the Agricultural Revolution. It’s imbued with deep prejudices — human beings can be bought and sold, the nurturing of human life (women’s work) has no monetary value whatsoever — and reinforces our place outside the circle of life, separated from one another and from our deepest values.


 aaaaapentbudg45(Photo: Ralff Somoff)

The National Priorities Project, an organization that analyzes the US budget, projects that "in fiscal year 2015, military spending is projected to account for 54 percent ofall federal discretionary spending, a total of $598.5 billion."

That does not include funding for the National Intelligence Programs - including the Central Intelligence Agency - which will separately receive $45.6 billion dollars in congressional discretionary funding in 2015, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

In addition, no one can accurately track all the military and intelligence discretionary spending buried in other line item allocations. This is because many projects related to military spending are intentionally concealed in unlikely funding areas.

That money is disproportionately going into the bank accounts of private defense contractors.


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Signaling a watershed shift in recognizing the national health crisis from cancer-linked strip mining in central Appalachia, more than 200,000 people have signed historic CREDO Action and Earthjustice petitions, calling on Congress to pass the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act(H.R. 912) and enact a moratorium on new mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR).

With the Appalachian coal industry in a tailspin and the global banking community pulling out of mountaintop removal financing, the extraordinary show of support for the ACHE Act campaign effectively acknowledges that the only defenders of the cancer-linked radical strip mining operations are a handful of absentee coal companies, indicted coal baron Don Blankenship, and their fringe supporters in Congress.


aaaajebsirJeb Bush continues the family tradition of backing policies that would compel workers to labor longer hours to make the wealthy richer. (Image: DonkeyHotey)

Indicating that he is completely cocooned in a 1% bubble - or that he simply has a self-serving and reckless disregard for the facts - GOP presidential aspirant Jeb Bush recently asserted that "people need to work longer hours to create a stronger US economy.

Statistical data indicates that as wealth has increasingly been consolidated upwards to a minute percentage of the US population, worker productivity has increased, as wages have remained stagnant. The impact of this phenomenon is that the rich profit from decades of rising productivity, with workers, on average, receiving no increased compensation.

As ABC News reported in its coverage of the Jeb Bush "longer hours" statement:

A 2014 Gallup poll found that already many Americans employed full-time report working, on average, 47 hours a week, while nearly 4 in 10 say they work at least 50 hours a week.

US workers toil more hours than workers in any other large, industrialized country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A couple of days ago, The New York Times published a telling chart (which you can view by clicking here and scrolling down) entitled, "The Growing Gap Between Productivity and Pay."

2015.16.7 BF Berkowitz(Photo: European External Action Service )BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT         

"The fight over the Iran deal is going to make the Obamacare battles look like two preppies slap-fighting over a cucumber sandwich," Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert, Foreign Policy      

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. …We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history." George W. Bush, Speech to the Israeli Knesset, May 15, 2008

Now that a deal with Iran over the future of its nuclear programs has been negotiated, expect conservatives to crank up the outrage and obfuscation. They will conflate diplomacy with appeasement. They may drag Hitler into the conversation and compare President Obama to Britain’s Neville Chamberlain’s betrayal at Munich. They will muddy the waters, sew discord, and create as much confusion as possible. Facts will be hard to come by as the posturing and bloviating begins. The conservative media machine will be running on all cylinders. Christian Zionists will deploy lobbyists on Capital Hill. Republican congressional representatives, and GOP presidential candidates will use everything in their arsenal to put a kybosh on the deal.

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and the early years of the war, Bush administration supporters and surrogates grew fond of branding critics with the A word, calling them appeasers, and accusing opponents of the war of being confused enablers of terrorism. One would think that if there were any justice in the world, conservatives would only be allowed to use the same inflammatory rhetoric and tired arguments only once in a generation.

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